OPINION | Is 2020 the final year for auto shows?

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

The coronavirus outbreak is disrupting global conferencing on an extraordinary scale.

With severe travel restrictions instituted by many countries, the convenience of air travel, enabling people from diverse locations to meet in central hubs for business, is vanishing.

Auto shows have been on a gradual decline, but 2020 might be the year that these events are finally resigned to history. For decades the auto show was a place for industry professionals to see all the new modes and technologies, in a single location. It allowed networking and product exposure on an unprecedented scale.

Car companies could also rely on the scheduling of auto show to create expectation and then build demand for their new products, technologies or services.

Digitisation has upended this tradition. Automotive brands now realise that they can orchestrate teaser campaigns of their own and then digitally reveal their new models, to a dedicated audience of millions instead of a few thousand showgoers.

Since the coronavirus has caused automakers millions in loss due to the coronavirus crisis, do you think international motor shows will still be relevant in 2021?  Email us.

geneva motor show

                            Image:  Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

A sudden collapse

The world’s most esteemed auto show, hosted for decades in Frankfurt, announced its 2020 edition’s termination last month.

In the wake of Frankfurt’s failure, ardent auto show supporters say that smaller, more concentrated events, will survive, but the Swiss government might have undone that probability too.

The Geneva auto show has also been cancelled, due to an emergency Swiss health policy directive which states that public events exceeding 1000 people are annulled for March.

Smaller in size than most of the other global auto shows, Geneva was always highly regarded due to its accessibility and Swiss neutrality. The Paris auto show naturally had a floor space allocation bias to French brands. The same applied to Frankfurt, where the German presence dwarfed all others.

Without a domestic car industry, Geneva's show has always been pleasantly neutral, allowing a fairer projection and exposure of new models and reveals, for all attendees. As a flight hub, Geneva is also easily accessible, and the city is excellently serviced by conferencing facilities and accommodation. Despite all these advantages, the influence of coronavirus was unstoppable.

Geneva motor show

                       Image:  Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Showtime is over 

Five years ago, it was unimaginable that Germany's Frankfurt auto show would be cancelled due to lack of interest and collapsing attendance. That has now happened. Similarly, nobody would expect the frequently excellent risk management and Swiss resourcefulness, to fail in the path of a viral outbreak. But that has now happened, too, with the Geneva auto show.

Car companies cannot gamble enormous auto show budgets and new model release schedules, on events which might risk cancelling at the last moment, due to unforeseen circumstances.

With the coronavirus showing how vulnerable the global conferencing industry is, digital solutions might now become a permanent fixture.

The Geneva auto show cancellation has forced an emergency digital communication strategy upon automotive brands. The month of March might prove to them, that they can comprehensively manage the value chain of a new product reveal, without requiring an auto show or event’s partnership.

It is unlikely that the global auto show schedule will ever truly recover. The year’s next most crucial auto show, scheduled for Beijing in the third week of April, has also been postponed.

There is every probability that 2020 might become the year of transition, where car companies finally ring fence their new model reveals. Dedicated digital shows and brand-owned events are the future, instead of massive shows in global conferencing hubs, allowing media and enthusiasts, to see everything new, in one place.

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